Thursday, June 9, 2011

Scientific Timer: LabTimer

For today's review I consider using your iPhone or iPad as a timer.  There are numerous apps to perform this basic task, and after considering several I selected LabTimer for review.  My main reasons for this choice were price (free), device support (iPhone, iPod Touch and iPad) and the availability of a large number of simultaneous timers.

One of the features that I like about this particular timer is that you can have up to 16 simultaneous timers in place (on the iPad version, 4 on smaller screen devices).  As shown in the screenshot, you can display four of the timers at a time, but all of them can be active and timing.  I am sure there are science applications (as well as things in sports or around the house) where this flexibility is useful. By the way, you can enter names for each timer (the ones shown are just the default).  To enter a timer name label just touch that field, and enter the text.

The use of the stopwatch is easy and intuitive.  You press the large button which switches from a green Start to a red Stop to perform timing (can turn them on and off at will).  A small icon over the timer number indicates it is paused (yellow) or timing (green triangle). When you want to reset the counter to zero you simply press the Clear button.  The display is in hours:minutes:seconds.  The response of the screen input limits  timer apps from reliably measuring times in fractions of a second.  If you do need tenths of a second, you can try the inexpensive ($0.99)  iLab Timer HD.  It has lap features, useful for athletic timing.

The LabTimer app will run on iPod Touch, iPhone and iPad.  I have tried it on a first generation iPod Touch (running iOS 3.1.3) and on an iPad 2.  It works flawlessly on both.  On small screen devices you get four timers only, otherwise functionality is the same.  One nice feature is that timing will continue in the background even as you have put the app away and are working in another app.

The timer also can function as a down timer.  To do this you first reset the timer, and then press the Hour, Minute and Second buttons multiple times to set them.  If running in foreground an alarm goes off when it is over.  One nice feature of the countdown timer is that it shows you the time (according to the clock on your device) when the timing cycle ends.

The LabTimer app is solid and intuitive, and the price (free) is certainly attractive. It would have been nice to squeeze out tenths of a second, and some have  complained about lack of landscape mode.   I give the app a rating of 8 (out of 10), and recommend it to anyone needing a timer. By the way the developer has a pay version of the app (LabTimer PhD) as a way for users to donate ($2.99) to development of the app.  Do you have a favourite scientific timer app?  If so, why not leave a brief description in the comment section.

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